It's official: I hate bunnies. Plot bunnies, to be exact. They hop around inside my brain and refuse to give me any rest, interfering with trying to finish established story lines because they won't let me concentrate on them. After days of fruitless searching for an Andromeda/Heroes crossover and finding none, this rabid bit of fur just won't shut up! I'm sooooo sorry but the only way to get it out of my mind is to put it into yours.
As usual, I own nothing. Andromeda and Heroes are both the property of people far cooler and way more talented than I. Enjoy.
The first breath drawn into empty lungs burns white hot. Most people don't have to experience the discomfort outside of their first breath of true air the day they are born. As he drew in that first, shuddering breath, Gaheris could appreciate the ignorance gained after that first moment was past.
His eyes protested at the sudden return of light as he squinted upwards. A large shadow moved into his field of view, blocking out the painful brightness. He blinked again and found himself looking up at Dylan, a force lance pointed at his chest.
Not that he could blame him. He had just committed treason. "You won, Dylan." He could not keep the smile from his lips. "Excellent work."
"That's so Nietzschean of you." And his point? "I would just shoot you again, but it turns out that I need you."
"I can't undo the sabotage, Dylan. I'm sorry, but this is the best course of action for everyone. The Commonwealth no longer has the strength needed to lead. It's time my people…"
"Drop it." It was almost a snarl. "We're in deeper than that."
That gave him pause. Rhade tilted his head and listened for the sounds of battle against the ship's hull… and found none. "What do you mean? Why is it so quiet? The battle can't be over yet."
Dylan gave a bitter laugh. "Actually, the battle's been over for a long time."
Rhade's brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, we've been stuck on the event horizon of a black hole, frozen in time for three hundred years."
"That's not possible." It had to be a trick. Andromeda picked that moment to chime in.
"Apparently it is. We have been pulled out of the event horizon by what looks to be a cargo vessel. And what's more, we have been boarded."
Dylan's force lance was still aimed at his chest. "Which is why I'm not killing you." He raised the weapon up and away from him. "Not yet, anyway. Can you at least be trusted to help me defend the ship?"
Hunt did not look as though he was bluffing, and Rhade had known him long enough to read the captain fairly well. If they had been frozen in time for 300 years or more and they were being boarded, then his personal survival would most likely require that he support Dylan in defense of the ship. "I am with you, Captain." He knew he had lost the right to address him as 'Dylan' after his betrayal.
Hunt stepped back to grant him room to stand while Andromeda brought the visual up onto her main screen. The relatively recent act of treason was pushed aside as the two men worked together to protect their ship. Using cunning and skill they gained the upper hand. The Magog was surprisingly easy, and although it took all of Rhade's self-will not to kill the beast on sight, it turned out to be a wise move to spare its life. The other Nietzschean and the purple creature proved to be the more difficult to subdue.
That they almost got pulled into the black hole again hadn't made things any easier, but again they survived.
Their thieves-turned-guests were secured away before Gaheris found himself alone with only Dylan and Andromeda again. It was not a completely comfortable setting, but one that was necessary.
"What do I do with you, Rhade? You were supposed to be my best man at my wedding, but that's a dream of the past. Sarah is long since dead, as are your wives and children." The reminder stung him, but was not something that could be denied. "What are we to one another now, Rhade?"
The pain of his betrayal weighed heavily on him as well. He had sided with his people and the result had been disastrous. "I am a Nietzschean, Dylan. We are geared towards survival and cunning. At the time the right decision seemed clear; the Commonwealth had erred in making a treaty with the Magog. It seemed… clear that it was time for new leadership, and it is our way to take things by force."
Hunt's fists were on the surface of his desk, as though the tall human was just barely holding back from violence. "And now?"
Gaheris inhaled deeply. "If our… guests are to be believed, things did not happen as we envisioned when we plotted our uprising. It would seem that the Nietzschean drive to prove our superiority has lead to infighting amongst the prides. It has destroyed any chance at a unified and strong front, thus leaving the galaxy to fall into chaos and disarray."
Dylan looked at him as if waiting for something else. Rhade swallowed his pride. "I was… wrong." The word seemed so inadequate. "My actions have cost us both our families as well as our world. I do not know if I can ever make it up to you, and I understand if you can never trust me again, but I know with everything that is in me that the right choice, the correct choice for me is to spend my life trying to put things right."
The silence in the room was almost deafening. Dylan's eyes seemed to be boring into his very soul, but Gaheris refused to look away first. To look away first would be a sign of weakness. Finally, after a small eternity, the captain nodded. "I believe you. But I warn you, Rhade, betray me again and you will not live to talk me out of killing you a second time."
Understandable. Of course, a Nietzschean would have just killed him now. One of the benefits to having Dylan in charge. "I will not let you down. Not again."
"Good." Hunt flexed his shoulders and turned away. Something in Rhade relaxed. If Dylan was willing to present his back to him, then he at least trusted him not to attack. "There's one more thing I need to know, Rhade."
"I shot you in the gut, at close range." Hunt turned back around even as ice settled into the pit of Rhade's stomach. He hadn't had time to consider the possible outcome of his timely resurrection. "Andromeda confirms that you were dead. Care to tell me how you're standing here, now?"
He could lie, of course, but that would further damage their already shaky truce. "Would you accept that it nothing harmful to you?"
"No, not given recent events."
"I thought not." Gaheris took a breath. "Then there is one good thing about the Commonwealth being gone; she cannot be charged with desertion. That would break the promise I made."
Rhade hesitated for a moment before answering. "Lieutenant Clarice Benoit."
"You know, I never asked you to get yourself on this ship."
"Well, I apologize, but the idea of you playing games on a Nietzschean warship didn't exactly leave me with a comfortable feeling in my belly."
"I am perfectly capable of handling a pack of Nietzscheans."
"Oh, sure, because you did such a stellar job the last time." Charlie held up one arm to display the line of bone blades in illustration. "Besides, people are starting to talk."
"Hand me that wrench. And what people?"
Charlie handed her the tool. "Voices here and there. Cuchulain has made a name for himself as a ship's captain. The rumors are that he is certain to make Fleet Marshall. There are those who seek to discredit him and cast aspersions on his character."
A frown marred her brow. "So they're focusing on his kludge engineer?"
"The kludge he keeps as his chief engineer over his fellow Nietzscheans. People know that he stole you from Genghis Galahad, and they're starting to put together your time with Genghis and your time serving under Cuchulain and starting to wonder how a mere kludge who has supposedly been suffering a life of hard labor for fourteen years still looks as young and fresh as the day she first stepped aboard ship."
She sighed. "Damn. I was banking on no one paying attention to the non-mod." She gave him an irritated look that was more aimed towards her own lack of vision than his words. "Ideas?"
"Get out fast."
"Oh, that's all? No problem there. It's not like my every step isn't monitored while planet side to prevent anyone from stealing me away again. I mean do you have a plan?"
They fell silent as footsteps neared the doorway leading to the corridor, holding quiet until whoever it was passed by. "Of course we have a plan."
Charles smirked. "I contacted Erik." She rolled her eyes and he nudged her shoulder in response. "An explosion resulting in a hull breach on one of the outer walls should suffice. You float away with the debris and Erik scoops you up. Easy."
"Except it will kill me."
"Dead is dead."
"Not for you." He gave her one of his most impish smiles. "He's going to rendezvous with us in the next system."
"We reach the next system in under eighteen hours." He shrugged. "You ever hear of a little thing called 'prior notice'?"
"There were scheduling conflicts. We had to work fast. He's got something for you once you're on his ship."
The engineer shook her head in disbelief. "You boys will be the death of me, yet."
Charles grinned and gave her a very un-Nietzschean wink. "Highly unlikely."
Andromeda chimed in. "Clarice Benoit was already stationed aboard as part of Engineering when you took over command, Dylan. Unblemished record. She was described by her superiors as humble. She declined a commendation for valor on two occasions, preferring instead to illuminate the deeds of others."
A light went off in Dylan's memory. "As I recall, you didn't like that about her, Rhade."
"It showed a lack of ambition."
"And yet you mention charges of desertion? Didn't she die while on mission?"
"Confirmed." The holographic image of Andromeda flickered into being. "She went planet side with a small group lead by Commander Rhade to investigate a potential terrorist outpost. There was an explosion that lead to a rockslide. Four of the team members were killed. Two made it back to the base site. Commander Rhade was trapped inside a subterranean cave system for seventy-eight hours before he was found. Benoit was listed among the dead. All that was found of her was her an arm. It was determined that scavengers drug off the rest of the body."
Gaheris remembered that day all too well. "She grew another." Dylan looked at him blankly. "She grew another arm. She called it rapid cellular regeneration. Her body could replace lost appendages. According to her, even organs if need be."
Dylan frowned. "I'm not following you."
"Clarice Benoit was trapped in the cave system with me. She was suffering from multiple factures and crush injuries as well as a traumatic amputation. I was about to offer to end her suffering until I noticed that her body was healing itself at an accelerated pace. I literally watched as her wounds sealed and her body grew a new arm. The entire process took less than five minutes."
"How is that possible?"
Good question. "A quirk in her DNA. A mutation in her genetic makeup. Her parents had mutations of their own, though not the same as hers."
"And how do you know that?"
Rhade smiled. "We were trapped in there for more than three days. And I could hardly fail to notice the fact that she wasn't dead. It was an… interesting conversation."
Dylan leaned back in his seat. "Let's hear it."
It felt like a betrayal of trust, but he needed to come clean. "She was born on Earth, as her personnel record stated, but the location and date were wrong. Her original birthplace was in what was known as the United States, the state of Texas… Earth year 1989."
Dylan's mouth fell open in shock. Andromeda spoke up. "That is not possible. That would mean she was born nearly two thousand years before Earth joined the Systems Commonwealth."
"It was not something she enjoyed. In her own words, 'immortality leaves a lot to be desired'." She had been almost bitter about it. "Her original name was Claire Bennett. She was adopted by a couple that loved her like their own. It wasn't until her mid-teens that she started to notice something was wrong."
Hunt finally found his voice. "Such as?"
"She healed too quickly. She never bruised. Never got ill. Cuts mended in seconds and factures healed just as quickly. She told me that once she had attended a party with other people her age and a boy tried to force himself on her. There was an accident. Later she woke up in a morgue, her chest cavity cut open. Apparently a branch had become lodged in her head, effectively killing her. When the medical examiner removed the object, her body… repaired itself."
Dylan and Andromeda both seemed torn between horror and incredulity. Rhade continued, finding an odd… serenity at divulging this secret at last. He looked out the window into the starry void as he continued. "The cellular regeneration continued to grow more and more efficient, until her aging began to slow and eventually stopped altogether. She was frozen in time; youthful and strong, and unable to die.
"During our… isolation together she admitted that she had been married nine times, but stopped taking husbands when she realized that the pain of becoming a widow never grew less sharp no matter how often it happened. She had settled for… running whenever she began to feel too emotionally attached to her lovers, feeling that they deserved the chance to find someone who could live their lives with them. She also had born forty-three children, only two of which inherited her trait of longevity. She said that the pain of outliving and burying your own children was even greater than that of losing your spouse, so she had turned her back on that as well."
Gaheris' eyes focused on a random star. "She was… lonely. She and her two living sons rarely crossed paths, though they kept in touch as much as was able. She was also prone to boredom." He found himself smiling. "Her time aboard the Andromeda was not her first time in the High Guard. She had served more than once, signing up under different names every one hundred and fifty to two hundred years. She had been an engineer, a medical officer, even a janitor once." He turned his face back to Dylan. "I checked that part out upon my return to the ship. She told me the names of her past aliases. It took some time to access all the archives, but I found no fewer than five prior incarnations."
Dylan ran his fingers through his hair. "My God… all that she would have known. All that she would have seen." He shook his head. "Why all the subterfuge? Why didn't she just tell us who and what she was?"
"To what end?" Rhade took a step towards the desk. "Her view was that she would not become what she called a 'lab rat' again. Apparently people had discovered her abilities more than once in the past and she did not appreciate being strapped to a table and dissected while they attempted to find out how she did what she did. She had no intentions of going back to that, which was a very real possibility had she returned to the Andromeda. You would not have wanted to do it, Dylan, but the Commonwealth would have insisted." He gave a half-smile. "She was interested in her own survival."
The logic could not be argued against. Rhade was right, as Benoit had been. Hunt stood up, picking up a decorative sphere from his desk, rolling it between his palms. "How does this equate to you surviving a force blast to the mid-section? Did she… do something to you?"
"There was a cave in while we were trapped. I was… severely wounded. Mortally wounded, and all we had was half of a bare med kit. The nanobots we had with us would not have been enough to save me. She… emptied the nanobots from their injection cylinder and replaced them with a portion of her own blood." He remembered her movements through a haze of his own blood. Deliberate. Determined. "It… contaminates my own genetic code, to a point, but it did save my life."
"And made you immortal."
"I don't think so. Neither did she. I don't have enough of her cells in me to give me her level of protection, but clearly I am harder wearing."
"Much harder." Dylan shook his head. "It's… unbelievable."
"And yet it is so." Thankfully. "I owed her my life."
Hunt was nothing if not intelligent. "So you covered her desertion."
"Too many witnessed the explosion, and were she to show up with two good arms when one might have been discovered… she had to leave." Gaheris gave his captain an inquiring look. "Am I to be brought up on charges?"
Dylan shot him a look. "Of all that you are guilty of, helping a woman escape unjust imprisonment and forced experimentation is very low on the list." There was that. "However, something else does cross my mind."
"And that is?"
"The very real possibility that Lieutenant Benoit, or whatever she's calling herself these days, may still be out there. Somewhere there could very well be a former High Guard Officer, one who has seen the past three hundred years first hand and likely holds a wealth of information we could use." Hunt's face became contemplative. "Do you think she'd join us?"
Rhade frowned. "It's possible, if we could even find her. She served multiple times with the High Guard and was, in all of those times, an exemplary officer with an impeccable record. All indications are that she was loyal."
"Any ideas on how to find her?"
"Not at the moment, but she did say something about recycling names. She always tried to keep her initials the same, but that would be in the written language she learned during her first life."
Andromeda's hologram took on a contemplative expression. "I could look into that. I have extensive records on the cultures belonging to the various races that made up the Commonwealth. If I could have information on her past personas."
Rhade nodded. "Easily done. My research into her background should still be under my personal files in the mainframe. Help yourself."
The first breath was always painful, even for someone who felt very little else in the way of real pain. It burned like white fire, expanding in the lungs until you thought they would burst.
This was why she hated 'dying'.
Claire opened her eyes and looked up into the smirking face of her eldest son. "Do you know how humiliating it is to have to be 'rescued' by your children? I used to change your diapers, you know."
"It's been a long time since any of us have been in diapers."
She sat up slowly, not because of discomfort but because several parts of her were still recovering from the cold vacuum of space. "But not so long I can't still put you over my knee."
"I'd dearly love to see you try and put Charlemagne over your knee." He held out a warm robe as she stripped off the damaged clothing she was wearing. "He's got several advantages over you that I don't believe your venerable wisdom would balance out."
"Charlie is the most well behaved and obedient one out of the three of you." She accepted the robe, wrapping it around and tying it snuggly. "And what's with the pull out? Don't you three have lives of your own? What are you doing obsessing over what I'm doing? I'm the parent. I'm supposed to obsess over you. Speaking of which, are you eating properly? You look a little skinny." And he did. His ebony skin was a bit too tight over his high cheekbones.
Erik grinned and leaned down to kiss her on the forehead. "I've missed you as well, Mother. And as for the 'pull out', something came to my attention that I thought you might be interested in." He pulled out a flexi and offered it to her. "My sources brought a curious matter to light. It seems a Nightsider is attempting to salvage a Commonwealth Ship of the Line. There are dozens of leads on multiples vessels. Apparently he's decided on a target."
Claire's breath caught for the barest moment. "The Andromeda Ascendant."
"Sources say she's been trapped on the event horizon of a black hole for the past three hundred years. She's believed to be perfectly preserved, with the exception of some battle damage."
"Tell me you're joking."
"I'm afraid not."
"Damn." She turned and started towards the helm of Erik's cargo vessel. "Can we get there before the salvage crew?"
"Possibly. What do you want to do if they beat us?"
"Take her back." Claire took a seat at the weapons station, knowing better than to take Erik's pilot's seat. "How could I have been so stupid?"
Erik sat down and buckled in. "How do you mean?"
"I knew there were High Guard ships out there. Derelicts floating in space. Why didn't I track them down? Why did I just leave them out there?"
"You think it is your responsibility to play intergalactic janitor?"
Claire gave a soft growl. "I think that since the fall of the Commonwealth known space has come to ruled by a bunch of spoiled, petulant children, none of whom have the intelligence or wisdom to be entrusted with a toy as shiny as a High Guard ship of the Line." She shook her head at her own foolishness. "You did more than your fair share of stints in the High Guard. Surely you recall what something like this was capable of."
"I do. And I agree. It would be like giving the trigger to a Nova Bomb to a three year old."
"That's exactly what it would be like." She looked over to give her very grown child a fond smile. "When did you get so wise?"
"Well… they do say with age comes wisdom." He didn't turn to face her, but she could see his smile in the reflection of the screen before him. "Should we get Charlemagne?"
"No, too soon. Besides, he likely put an insane amount of work into falsifying his credentials to even get a spot on a Dragan ship, let alone Cuchulain's. It'd be a shame to wreck that now. Might come in useful, later. Do we have a current location for Joseph?"
"Not on our way and he's too far to rendezvous with us in time to intercept the salvage crew."
"Just you and I, then."
Erik gave a laugh. "Just like old times." Now he looked over his shoulder. "Off to save the universe, then?"
"Might as well." Claire set the flexi aside and leaned back in her chair. "I don't see anyone else clamoring for the job. Do you?"